Golf’s Great Heritage: Olympia Fields–The 1928 U.S. Open

BY BOB WEISBERGER

“The 1928 U.S. Open proved to be an upset of grand proportions. Coming in, Bobby Jones was a name to reckon with and most everyone thought he would take the trophy. Instead, Johnny Farrell, a club pro who had competed on tour, emerged the victor. It was a hard fought battle from start to finish.

At the end of regulation the two were tied at 294 for 72 holes. They played a 36 hole playoff. And they played it well, Farrell taking 143 shots (70-73) and Jones 144 (73-71). Interestingly, if the match had been played at match play, Jones would have won by one-up!

News reports of the day called the competition “thrilling.” It described Farrell as having “bulldog courage and a lion heart.” Of course, the same could be said of Bobby Jones, who, unlike Farrell, was not playing for prize money but for the honor of victory. The difference in the scores might have been the last four holes in the morning round, where Farrell got hot, really hot, and birdied all four of them!

Or it might have been the ninth hole, which seemed to jinx Jones. At least that’s the way it looked because on this par-four hole, Jones took fives and sixes on every one of the six rounds! Astonishing!

Here’s the way the play on the final playoff hole, the 18th, was reported by golf writer E. M. Adams in a publication called The Voice of the Golfer. Bobby Jones was one down at the time. Of course, there was no television, so this was a “word picture.”

“Now picture this scene. A 490-yard hole slightly dog leg, the tee on a hill, well back among some large trees that hug the line of play on the left. Two large traps, one on the right, one on the left 235 and 250 yards from the tee, guard the tee shot area. A ditch crosses the fairway 365 yards out and from which the ground rises gradually to the green set back among large trees.

Five thousand people were banked behind the green and lined down each side of the fairway. It had started to rain pretty hard as Johnny took up his stance to drive on that last hole. The sky was getting blacker every minute to the north and it would only be a matter of minutes before a deluge would break loose. The crowd was restless, many in the gallery had faithfully followed each shot and were envisioning another 36 hole playoff the following day. Johnny had been smiling at the seventeenth hole but when he walked out on the eighteenth tee, grim determination had replaced that grin. He drove to the rough at the right near a trap and his second shot was short in the rough on the left. Bobby had a beautiful shot off the tee, down the center. He purposely pulled his spoon shot to the green but the ball hit a spectator off the green to the left.

Farrell played a great pitch from the rough that was dead on the pin and the ball stopped seven feet short of the hole. Jones’ ball had been kicked by a policeman after it had come to rest, and the U.S.G.A. permitted him to replace it. Bobby carefully sighted the line to the hole and chipped to within two feet of the cup. The gallery gasped and cheered. Bobby had made his last big effort to keep the match going and Johnny had to sink that putt to win and save another playoff.

Farrell then showed that he, too, had the grit and courage that makes great men and champions. He walked up to his ball carefully studying the green, crouched down to sight the line and as he prepared to make his putt, a number of cameras broke the deathlike stillness that surrounded the green. Johnny stepped back from his ball, and requested the referee to please ask the cameramen to refrain from taking photographs until after the shot had been made. The referee spoke to the photographers, Johnny walked back to his ball, took up his stance, and without hesitating tapped it. Ten thousand eyes watched the ball roll straight toward the cup–it seemed a long time getting there–it finally disappeared from sight and the cheering that arose from the gallery paid just and due honor to one of the greatest, finest boys who has ever won the National Open championship.”

Ironically, during the first 36 holes of the championship the USGA had paired Farrell and Jones along with Walter Hagen and a man named Maurice McCarthy from New York. Jones opened with a 73, three back, while Farrell had a 77. After two rounds Bobby Jones led the field with a 144. Farrell had a 151. Few would then have backed Farrell in a bet to win.

But that’s golf. No different today than it was in 1928.”

 

©2017 BY JOHNNY FARRELL